Self-Regulation: Hitting Your Optimal Performance State

Posted on: February 5th 2017

Every athlete needs a certain level of arousal in order to compete. Arousal is a mental, emotional, and physiological state that prepares you for a task and encompasses your energy levels. Imagine yourself preparing to pick up a heavy box from the floor compared to picking up a pillow off the floor. You would probably prepare differently if you had to pick up that heavy box and put it in a car, compared to picking up that heavy box and then carrying it up two flights of stairs. Well the same concepts apply in sports. In this case, it’s the state that you need to be in to prepare yourself to play roller derby.

The level of arousal not only depends on the task that you need to perform, it also depends on the individual. Over the ten years that I competed, I’ve seen a wide range of arousal levels that athletes needed in order to prepare for a game. Like teammates who needed to pump themselves up by dancing, grunting, or busting out push ups in the locker room. I’ve also seen teammates who needed to calm down in order to find their appropriate arousal levels. These athletes would walk around the track in silence, breathing slowly, or isolate themselves before gearing up. There’s not a magical solution: one technique is no better than another. What matters more is, which technique is right for you and your needs!

An athlete’s arousal level can affect the quality of their performance. Finding the right level of arousal can help you reach your optimal performance Zone. If we look back to the self-awareness post, this Zone would be your Green Zone. This is why I believe that self-awareness is so important when it comes to mental preparation. Reflecting on your worst (red), mediocre (yellow), and best (green) performances can help you gain a better understanding of the arousal levels you might need in order to reach optimal performance!

Three Levels of Arousal

There is never a gauge that we can watch to know where our arousal and energy levels are. It’s based on feeling and listening to your body. There are three levels of arousal: Under-aroused, Optimal level of arousal, and Over-aroused. Being under-aroused or over-aroused can lead to having mediocre or poor performances.

Signs you are Under-Aroused:

  • Feeling Lethargic
  • Bored
  • Inattentive
  • “Don’t Care” Attitude
  • Low Energy
  • Slow Reactions
  • Feeling of Heavy Muscle

Signs you are Over-Aroused:

  • Feeling Stressed
  • Frustration
  • Lack of Control
  • Muscle Tightness
  • Sweating
  • Increase Heart Rate
  • Hyperactivity
  • Negative Self-Talk
  • Focus on the wrong the things

Signs you are at Optimal Arousal:

  • In Control (Thoughts, Mind, and Actions)
  • Feeling Ready or Prepared
  • Muscle Relaxed / Ready to Be Engaged
  • Regulated Breathing
  • Positive Self-Talk
  • Focused

I want you do go back to your self awareness traffic light exercise. Do you see any similarities? Individual exceptions can occur, but for the most part you should see a connection between your yellow, green, and red Zones to the three arousal levels:

  • Yellow Zone Signs (think, feel, act) are similart tocommon signs in being Under-Aroused
  • Red Zone Signs are similar to common signs in being Over-Aroused
  • Green Zone Signs are similar to common signs of being at Optimal Arousal Level

The arousal state you’re in leading up to a competition can play a role in the type of performance that you might have during a game. This is true for practices as well. Knowing when your optimal level will help you get into your Green Zone. This is why monitoring your energy and arousal levels is key to knowing what that optimal state would be for you! The goal is to achieve an optimal level of arousal and energy just before the competition is about to start. When the first whistle blows, you want to be ready.

Self-Regulation: Activation and Relaxation

The ability to change your arousal level is a skill called Self-Regulation. Self-Regulation is exactly what it sounds like, it’s your capability to control your own arousal and energy levels. It’s good to be aware of how your performance will be affected, but to better prepare for practices and games, you need to be able to make adjustments. These adjustments are done through Activation and Relaxation. Activation helps increase your arousal and energy levels, and Relaxation helps you decrease them. There might be some games or practices where you need to use activation techniques, and maybe other times where you might need to use relaxation techniques. It’s not uncommon to even use both type of techniques to hit one’s optimal arousal level at a start of a game. Again, this is why self-awareness and understanding your mind and body is key!

There are different techniques to help increase or decrease your arousal / energy levels. I’ll be diving deeper into the techniques that can help to control your arousal state in the next couple of posts. In the meantime, keeping on monitoring your practices, and pay special attention to your arousal state before practices, scrimmages, and games!

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